IT was designed to blend seamlessly with its Georgian surroundings and rectify a planning catastrophe of the past.
But a bid to replace a run-down building with a grand New Town complex is facing tough opposition from city planners, who say the modernist eyesore must instead be replaced with something similar.
Retail technology firm Zonal intends to demolish the abandoned photography workshop on Union Street and build a £2.5 million block modelled on its historic surroundings.
The company is expanding rapidly and intends to construct the building, described as “mock-Georgian”, to house its 150 staff.
Despite support from local residents though, planning officials at the city council are understood to be against so-called “pastiche design” – and would prefer to see a steel and glass structure.
Zonal’s property director James McLean said the existing building was in a “terrible condition” and that the new design would be a great improvement.
Zonal is based on nearby Forth Street and said it was keen to remain in the area, where it said it contributes around £500,000 to the local economy.
He said: “We’ve had a lot of support from local businesses and residents who think it would be much better than the current eyesore.
“We believe this is a good design and fits in with the Georgian New Town but I’m certainly willing to get into dialogue with the council and adapt if it means getting the development through.”
Heritage group the Cockburn Association has objected to the bid. It insists it is not opposed to demolishing the existing building but claimed the proposed structure would be a poor replica of the surrounding buildings.
Director Marion Williams said that “such ill-informed use of the classical language of architecture will result in a second-rate building within Georgian Edinburgh”.
She added: “The poor quality of the site at present is not an argument for accepting development that compromises the townhouses of Forth Street or an excuse for subpar classicism.”
Local residents are keen to see the long-standing eyesore, which includes empty low-rise homes to the rear, demolished.
One wrote: “I am all for protecting our New Town, but we are not living in museum, and we need people living and working here to make it a real living breathing place.
“Also from any perspective tearing down an eyesore and putting up a decent looking building can only be a good thing. We can’t rely on Standard Life and RBS to be the only business based here.” A council spokesman said it had received the application and architect’s plans which it is currently considering. A decision is expected next month.
Zonal supplies point of sale systems to thousands of the country’s pubs and restaurants and expects to take on around 30 new staff every year.
THE OLD PASTICHE v MODERN DEBATE
Sheraton Grand, Festival Square (Mock-Georgian): Built in 1985, the five-star hotel’s loose Georgian style remains unpopular with experts, being constructed in the shape but without the detailing found in its New Town counterparts.
Radisson Blu, Royal Mile (Pseudo-Medieval): The High Street hotel was constructed in 1992 occupying a much reviled Edinburgh gap-site. However, its odd medieval extension and makeover in 2001 was described as “inexcusable” by the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland.
SoCo, South Bridge (Contemporary Georgian: Gutted by the Old Town fire of 2002, a redevelopment scheme including an Ibis hotel is finally under way. Plans to use mock period architectural features were ditched last year, although the Cockburn Association and Edinburgh World Heritage still claim it will be completely out of keeping with its historic surroundings.
HELP ON THE WAY
Property owners who maintain buildings with shared areas such as roofs and stairwells could soon be offered extra help.
The city council is consulting on proposals through an online survey, neighbourhood meetings and meetings with interested organisations.
Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance and resources convener, said: “It’s really important that the feedback we get is robust and represents a wide range of opinions from interested parties across the city.
“We are seeking comments from owners, residents and all those involved in the property profession from heritage bodies to letting agents.
“I strongly encourage everyone to have their say and let others know about our consultation.”